Frances Fox Piven (born October 10, 1932) is an American professor of political science and sociology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, where she has taught since 1982.
Piven is known equally for her contributions to social theory and for her social activism. A veteran of the war on poverty and subsequent welfare-rights protests both in New York City and on the national stage, she has been instrumental in formulating the theoretical underpinnings of those movements. Over the course of her career, she has served on the boards of the ACLU and the Democratic Socialists of America, and has also held offices in several professional associations, including the American Political Science Association and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. Previously, she had been a member of the political science faculty at Boston University.
Piven was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, of Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Rachel (née Paperny) and Albert Fox, a storekeeper. Piven immigrated to the United States when she was one and was naturalized as a United States Citizen in 1953. She was raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. She attended P.S. 148 and Newtown High School. She received a B.A. in City Planning in 1953, an M.A. in 1956, and a Ph.D. in 1962, all from the University of Chicago. She attended on a scholarship and she waitressed for living expenses.
Piven was married to her long-time collaborator Richard Cloward until his death in 2001. Together with Cloward, she wrote an article in the May 1966 issue of The Nation titled "The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty" advocating increased enrollment in social welfare programs in order to collapse that system and force reforms, leading to a guaranteed annual income. This political strategy has been referred to as the "Cloward–Piven strategy". During 2006/07 Piven served as the President of the American Sociological Association.
While at Boston University, she and her political science department colleagues Murray Levin and Howard Zinn refused to go back to work after the settlement of the 1979 American Association of University Professors strike. Clerical and support staff had also gone out on strike at the time of the AAUP, and Piven, Levin, Zinn and others refused to cross their picket line. The "B.U. Five" were threatened with dismissal by B.U. President John Silber.
Silber later backed down, and Piven and the others eventually returned to the classroom. Piven eventually left B.U. for C.U.N.Y.
Throughout her career, Piven has combined academic work with political action. In 1968, she signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. In 1983 she co-founded Human SERVE (Service Employees Registration and Voter Education), an organization with the goal of increasing voter registration by linking voter registration offerings with the use of social services or state Departments of Motor Vehicles. Human SERVE's initiative was incorporated by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, colloquially known as the "Motor Voter Bill".
She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and serves as one of the eight honorary chairs of that organization.
Piven also engaged Milton Friedman in a debate in the PBS television series Free to Choose.
Some of Piven's major works include Regulating the Poor written with Richard Cloward, first published in 1972 and updated in 1993, which is a scrutiny of government welfare policy and how it is used to exert power over lower class individuals; Poor Peoples' Movements, published in 1977, an analysis of how rebellious social movements can induce important reforms; Why Americans Don't Vote, published in 1988 and a follow up book Why Americans Still Don't Vote published in 2000, each of which look at the role of current American electoral practices which tend to discourage the poor working class from exercising their right to vote;The War at Home published in 2004, a critical examination of the domestic results of the wars initiated by the Bush administration; Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America, a look at the interaction of disruptive social movements and electoral politics in generating the political force for democratic reform in American history.Bronislaw Malinowski Award (2015)
American Sociological Association Career Award for the Practice of Sociology (2000)
Charles McCoy Career Achievement Award of the Caucus for a New Political Science of the American Political Science Association (2004)
Mary Lepper Award of the Women's Caucus of the American Political Science Association (1998)
American Sociology Association Lifetime Achievement Award for Political Sociology
Tides Foundation Award for Excellence in Public Advocacy (1995)
Annual Award of the National Association of Secretaries of State (1994)
President's Award of the American Public Health Association (1993)
Lee/Founders Award of the Society for the Study of Social Problems
Eugene V. Debs Foundation Prize
C. Wright Mills Award